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February 01, 2009

LINC: Grow. Train. Send.

The Latin Impact Network Churches (LINC) is a family of churches powerfully influencing lives and society in Peru, Honduras, and Nicaragua.

  • Relationships

    Brenda Matthews takes an opportunity to share a laugh with members of a church plan in Piura, a city in the northern part of Peru.

  • Discipleship Training

    Jared Cox leads a leadership training session at Impacto Church. Training leaders is essential to the life of this church that the Lord has raised up where there once was no church.

  • Reaching the Community

    In Managua, Nicaragua Impacto Church operates a ministry called El Vaso de Leche where they got into the community of Los Marqueses and provide children with a story of the Gospel and then a glass of milk.

  • Leadership Training

    While waiting for a training class to start at Impacto Church in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, (left to right) Esteban Elvir, David Gomez, Norberto Gutierrez, Keith Moore, and Pepper Horn share a moment of laughter.

It’s Sunday morning in Arequipa, Peru, and ten people sit around the table listening to the lesson given by Craig Querfeld, TEAM missionary and leader of the El Camino church planting team. Each of these people sitting at this table represent a door opening into various communities and social circles of Arequipa.

Each of them provides another avenue or way for the Gospel to spread in southern Peru. Each of them is a testimony that God is using this church to impact this nation, strongly imprinted by its traditional religious past, with a fresh and powerful expression of the Kingdom of God. 

It has not always been this way. 

In the 16th century the Spanish conquistadors used Catholicism as a means of control within the claimed and colonized lands. The strength of the church, woven together tightly with the government, reached into every Latin American life and influenced decisions and actions from cradle to grave. In recent years, an effort to find common ground between the Catholic Church and Protestants is causing Catholic Church leaders to ask people, “Why leave the Catholic Church to attend another church? We are very similar, and it could save you all the trouble of changing so much of your life.” It is true that leaving the Catholic Church could bring repercussions, maybe exclusion from one’s family. Therefore, Latins are very cautious and can often be resistant to the Evangelical church, knowing that this change would completely transform their lives. 

In August of 1999, Craig and Sue Querfeld arrived in Arequipa to begin building relationships and to get to know the city that is often referred to as “the Rome of southern Peru,” due to its impressive architecture and central importance in the religious tradition of the nation. This was the humble beginning of a missionary church-planting team that now consists of the Querfelds, Brad and Lori Quiring, Bob and Ruth Wantz and Kathi Small. The first service for the El Camino church was actually held on Easter Sunday 2001. 

For the first month of the ministry in Arequipa, El Camino met in the home of the Querfelds. Then, for the next four years, the church met in a rented house. Children’s clubs and English classes were a significant part of the ministry reaching into the community. These were the bridges by which people connected relationally with church and were exposed to the Gospel. For many, the difficult journey toward becoming disciples started here. 

The continual struggle to grow committed disciples of Christ stems from the strong grip of culturally traditional Christendom on social and religious status within the country of Peru. Craig said he was “surprised by how quickly the church was up and running, but unpleasantly surprised at how hard it is to get the leadership up and running.” People show interest in these classes, but making a strong commitment to the Evangelical church becomes tough for Peruvians because of the social culture. 

Two lay religious movements, Opus Dei and Soladicio, hold many of the upper class captive, for these religious ties also establish social status. To attend an Evangelical church would most likely remove one from a specific social circle, thus making it a hard decision for a Peruvian to identify as an Evangelical follower of Jesus Christ.

Kathi Small, a TEAM missionary who transferred to Peru from the Venezuelan ministry area, brought ideas that improved the El Camino discipleship program. Craig stated that they began to see a difference. Now participants are better helped to realize their potential and who they are in Christ through the Victorious Christian Living curriculum, which Kathi helped to introduce. 2009 is the year that El Camino will focus on the training and empowering of new leaders. There are a number of members who feel the Lord leading them into a ministry, and the leadership at El Camino wants to focus on their training.

Gabriel and Claudia Pezo, owners of a print shop in Arequipa, are examples of those who have been attending El Camino for some time and are now stepping into ministry leadership. One day Gabriel approached Craig and expressed his desire for more – more training, more discipleship…more chances for ministry. Gabriel now teaches the second level of the discipleship class at El Camino

This increasing desire for more in Christ has also prodded many church members to reach out to those who are less fortunate. For about 5 years now, El Camino has been involved in a community called Cuidad de Dios on the outskirts of Arequipa. Every Sunday, a team goes out to lead a children’s club, sing songs, teach a Bible lesson and play with the kids. Through this ministry, many now realize their ability to reach out and make a difference. They feel that they have permission to respond to a burden or a need that they see. They feel unleashed and confident – ready to start reaching into their own social circles.

Now the vision of a “church reproducing itself” is becoming a reality. Women are asking to do Bible studies with the women of Cuidad de Dios. Couples are beginning to ask what it would look like to begin a ministry to families there, and one member of El Camino even asked about the possibility of planting a church!

The model of establishing churches that would be high profile and, by design and intent, make an impact upon their immediate social settings has been a strategic model actively pursued in Colombia. The name that describes these churches in Colombia, Honduras and Nicaragua, Impacto, arose organically from the vocabulary of those in Colombia. Just across the border to the east, in Venezuela, a similar term, “impact churches,” was used to describe the influence these churches were making in their communities. Craig Querfeld stated that when the Arequipa church was beginning and they were looking at the impact church model, he wondered where and when the impact would take place. But as they faced and overcame daily challenges and struggles, this church in Arequipa definitely began to impact the community around them. It started by impacting its members and drawing them deeper into a relationship with Jesus. Now they are seeing those members rising up and desiring to impact their circles of influence.

This process of church growth is happening elsewhere in Peru, as well. In northwestern Peru, in the city of Piura, a new church plant, Alianza Familiar, began to meet in May of 2008. This work in Piura is a partnership with the Christian and Missionary Alliance (CMA) church in Miraflores, the residential district of Lima, Peru and TEAM. The CMA church in Miraflores sent one of their pastors, Jorge Merino and his wife July, to lead the church planting team, along with Marco and Mariana to lead the youth and music. Brenda Matthews, a TEAM missionary transferring from the Venezuelan ministry area, will join the team in late 2009 and focus on discipleship and the children’s ministry.

A recent community evangelistic event, on October 31, 2008, was a major push in Piura for Alianza Familiar and a team from CMA Miraflores. Asking the question “What Happens After Death,” this event attracted a number of visitors, and 112 people made decisions for Christ. As this young church strategically develops their discipleship program to care for these new believers, there is a great opportunity for them to impact the middle and upper class of this historic city of Peru. 

Nearly 1,200 miles to the north of Piura, in the country of Nicaragua, is another movement of God making an impact on its society. That impact comes again through a church that has recently grown and shows characteristics in common with the Peruvian churches.

Managua, Nicaragua

“For decades, traditional mission in Nicaragua has typically reached out to those who are poor, focusing on meeting the physical needs of the people, the temporal things, and therefore not doing much to impact culture,” said Jared Cox as we sat on his porch in Managua, looking out at the volcanoes and lake in the distance. While most ministries are directed toward the lower class, the professional class, a group of people that superficially looks like they have it all together and do not need anything or anyone, is overlooked. Enter Impacto, a church led by Jared and Tanya Cox, with a vision to reach the middle and upper class and a desire to see the church multiply in Nicaragua.

Because of personal hurt, broken homes and relationships, those in the middle and upper class are looking for answers and healing for their lives. The Coxes know that it is important to get deep inside the lives of the Nicaraguan people, but therein lie the challenges. The people of Nicaragua are very cautious and distrusting. Only over time and through years of friendship do they begin to let down their defenses. Jared and Tanya intentionally structure their lives and their ministries to fit into this middle and upper class society and are building a church in the city of Managua that meets the needs of these hurting and broken people.

The Impacto church in Managua values creativity, always looking for new and fresh ideas for how the church can be involved in lives. Since a number of members are university students, Impacto consistently and faithfully reaches out and ministers on the campus of the American University of Managua. This consistency and faithfulness is building a good reputation between the university and Impacto, strengthening the trust between the students and the church. Many of them have no interest in the church, in Christianity or the Bible because they have never had any dealings with them. Therefore, Impacto truly desires to care about what the students care about. They build relationships with the students to open the doors for the Gospel to spread. 

A young man named Oscar, one of the main pitchers for the university baseball team, recently trusted Christ. This was a major breakthrough, since it takes so long to lay a foundation of trust before discipleship can begin. Oscar learned about the church through the church sponsoring the baseball team and providing uniforms for the players, since baseball was not a university-supported sport. “This is probably the only baseball team in all of Nicaragua that is supported by a local church,” says Jared, but he loves to keep creative ideas flowing and innovative ministry opportunities at the forefront of Impacto.

Shortly after Impacto was started, a mission opportunity in Los Marqueses was established. Located about 45 minutes outside of Managua, each Saturday one of four teams travels to Los Marqueses, meets about 150 kids and reaches out to the community to meet needs in four areas: Spiritual, Nutritional, Infrastructure, and Sports. Impacto is ministering in Los Marqueses through a predetermined five-year plan. With the help of a project coordinator from Food for the Hungry who attends Impacto, they were able to set realistic goals and a proper strategy for reaching those goals. Now, two years into this program, the ministry of Impacto at Los Marqueses, through the El Vaso de Leche (The Glass of Milk) program, has accomplished much in this community.

This ministry is blessed with very qualified leaders in each of the four areas, including an architect and civil engineer, to help meet the infrastructure goals, and an employee of World Vision to help meet the nutrition goals of the project. 

After a time of singing, a Bible story and some review questions, the children each receive a glass of milk. Some would hold it as if it was a prized possession. Realizing that this is the most nutrition that some of the kids receive all week, it is obvious how important this ministry is in this community. While some kids drink the whole glass of milk, almost in one gulp, other kids carefully pour their milk into a container to carry home to a younger sibling or another child who needs the milk more than they do. Milk is a valuable commodity, and every drop is passed out to children who wait patiently for their share. 

Partnering with other churches in the area is important to Impacto because when they are through with the five-year plan, they hope to have built solid relationships between the people and churches within the community. In order to make sure that this relationship is developing, Impacto allows other local churches to help in the decision making process for the ministry of Los Marqueses. It is important that these churches see the ministry of El Vaso de Leche as a positive influence in the community, helping kids build a relationship with Jesus, and not just a church looking to offer a short term nutritional program.

While Jared Cox sees El Vaso de Leche as an opportunity for Impacto to reproduce itself, he also feels that church reproduction within Nicaragua will generally stem from the leadership training that occurs within the church. Right now another focus of Impacto is local leadership training. The goal is to train church planters who will be the catalyst for church multiplication through the city of Managua and even the world. 

Presently the church has a two-year training program covering topics such as Bible & Theology, Spiritual Formation and Spiritual Disciplines. There are five Latin church elders participating in this training program, who began following Christ as a result of Impacto’s ministry and outreach. They each have a desire to grow more in their spiritual lives so that when the time comes, they will be able to step out into a leadership position, helping to grow the church whether in Nicaragua, other parts of Latin America, or even across the world.

Seeing lives changed keeps Jared and Tanya moving forward. Many people who have been broken are now put back together. Families that had no hope of reforming bonds and strengthening commitments have a new opportunity to love and grow together. One married couple counseling with Jared, Lolo and Marisol, recently said “We’ve never been together like this in the history of our marriage.” Many others now experience freedom from a past of addictions, depression and emotional hurts from childhood sexual abuse. When talking about these stories, Jared paused and said “Now they are smiling a lot more because they know that God’s been healing them.” These smiles are the physical, tangible evidence confirming what the Coxes already know, that God is doing something great in Managua.

Impacto is a young church, just three years old, but also has a very young congregation. Jared and Tanya, being a young family, have attracted a number of young families who are just starting to have kids. Several university students also attend. Many of these have not grown up in a Christian family, so training and discipleship is critical. Jared looks forward 10-15 years and sees that these young couples and university students will be the strong foundation of the church in Managua, and the kids will grow up to know Jesus and learn what it means to be a disciple from an early age. 

These character traits of Impacto church in Nicaragua, namely, a commitment to leadership development within the professional class and a compassionate and active concern for the poor and needy, are by no means unique. They are common to the church in Peru as well as the church in neighboring Honduras.

Tegucigalpa, Honduras

It was September 2008, right after his first discipleship class, that this TACA Airline commercial pilot wanted to know when the next baptism service was going to be held. Since a public baptism makes the statement “I am an Evangelical,” making the decision to be baptized usually takes a new believer a significant amount of time. Old Spanish Christendom is thoroughly woven into the culture of Latin America and is a part of all of the major life milestones: birth, coming of age (first communion) and marriage. Therefore if someone turns from the traditional religion to identify themselves as an evangelical believer, they are not perceived to be a good “family” person. This pressure looms over many who come to faith in Jesus. But here was Jacobo wanting to be baptized, wanting to make a public declaration of his faith, just a few weeks after turning to Christ. 

The impact that Impacto church in Tegucigalpa, Honduras is having on the city is visible, and Keith Moore is passionate about raising up disciples and leaders to multiply the church throughout Honduras and the world.

Keith and Dawn Moore came to Honduras eight years ago, as TEAM missionaries from Bogota, Colombia, after sensing a new direction from the Lord and an increasingly dangerous situation in Colombia. TEAM missionaries Paul and Liz Bowman accompanied the Moores, along with a Colombian pastor, Norberto Gutierrez and his family. This team was sent to establish an impact church from the foundation that was laid by International Mission Board missionary, Dr. Harms. Paul and Liz Bowman now serve in Spain, but other TEAM missionaries, Pepper and Gabriela Horn, are now serving in Honduras. In March of 2009 the Impacto church in Tegucigalpa will celebrate eight years of ministry.

Over the last eight years, the power of the Gospel has been displayed in ways that have excited, amazed and humbled Keith and the others working at Impacto. As we sat in the living room of an apartment, four floors up, overlooking the city, talking about Honduras, story after story was told of the amazing things God has done in people's lives. There is the story of the General in the Honduran army who came to Christ and his life, his marriage, and his family were put back together. Many stories are told of people who didn't have apparent needs; but under the façade were broken homes, teenagers committing suicide and divorces tearing lives apart. But by the grace of God through the ministry of Impacto, many lives have been changed. 

Where the church started with just a couple of families and visitors, it has grown to over 750 on a Sunday. Every March the church celebrates a “Birthday Sunday” when all of those who have come to know Jesus Christ since the last celebration place a candle on several small cakes making one large cake in the shape of a cross. At the last Birthday Sunday Anniversary service, over 150 candles were put in the cakes signifying the start of their relationship with Christ, directly because of Impacto!

Discipleship and training are the keys to the multiplication and reproduction of the ministry of Impacto throughout Honduras. A church-based leadership training program allows Impacto to directly touch each church member’s life and to walk hand-in-hand through some of the basic issues of Christianity such as prayer, baptism and salvation. Each of the people that represent these transformations have been through a one-on-one discipleship class, and are now empowered to teach and lead someone else in the same way. Young men sensing a call to ministry can become a part of the Sembrar (“to plant” in Spanish) program. This is a four-year, full-time program in which they study and train with the pastors every day. Keith Moore, Pepper Horn and Norberto Gutierrez are all involved in teaching and discipling these young men, teaching various classes throughout the year. 

“The key to everything is growing new leaders,” says Keith as he reflects on the current students in the Sembrar program. Four are involved at the main Impacto church, and four others at the Point of Impact churches. The main Impacto church of Tegucigalpa planted these Point of Impact churches in the squatter neighborhoods of Ayestas, Feb 21 (the name is taken from the date that the first squatters settled into this land), and Villa Nueva

This past October was the ordination service for three Sembrar students. Through Sembrar, Impacto reproduces itself by training pastors and leaders who are ready to go out and start new works throughout Honduras. Now, even the vision of the pastors of these three Point of Impact churches includes planting new churches in other areas of their communities. Multiplication through training is an important part of the vision of Impacto.

Esteban Elvir, recently ordained and now serving as the pastor over the three Point of Impact churches, sees his Sembrar training as instrumental in preparing him for ministry. While we drive through the city of Tegucigalpa from one church to the next, it is clear that this discipleship and training has truly taken root in his life. He responds that evangelism, sharing one’s faith with everyone, and one-on-one discipleship are the most important functions of an Impact church. He sees himself as a “Moses” – trained in the best school and the best colleges, connected to a number of influential individuals, and the son of a diplomat; yet his heart beats for the poor and downtrodden, his own people – the people he came from when his parents adopted him from a poor family living in southern Honduras.

Through planting churches in other areas of the city, Impacto also has an opportunity to meet some of the basic needs of the people. In Ayestas, Feb 21, and Villa Nueva, each site has a medical clinic where a patient can pay $2 to receive medical care and free medicine. They also have a before and after school program to help the local children with their studies and to provide a safe environment for them to play and interact with others.

Making disciples, training leaders, and church multiplication are the heartbeat of Impacto in Tegucigalpa. Almost every day of the week there is a Bible study, training class, small group, or other activities taking place at the church – a church that is serious and passionate about reaching and making an impact in the country of Honduras and even the world.

If you think that you have seen a common thread in the practices of these churches in three different countries, you're not mistaken. It is almost as if you have been looking at three siblings who have the same parents but were raised separately. It is almost as if you can see that they all have the same hair and eye color, and a family trait of a square jaw-line; but their personalities, formed by the idiosyncrasies of different cultures, make them individual and unique.

When you get right down to it, each of these churches has similar goals and structures, but their implementation differs with the context of the culture's church maturity. They each have their own personality but share the same values. What brings them together is a ministry area within TEAM called LINC (Latin Impact Network of Churches).

Throughout Latin America, a number of churches have been built on the same model of church planting, and these churches together form a network called the Impact Church Network. This network reaches into Colombia, Honduras, Nicaragua, Peru, and Costa Rica. The vision not only includes training church planters to plant churches in the large urban areas of Latin America, but also to send missionaries out from Latin America to reach the Muslim world in Europe. 

Bob and Sandy Hanna, TEAM missionaries in Costa Rica, play an active role in LINC through writing and producing basic pastoral leadership materials to facilitate the training of young pastors who, in the future, will lead impact churches. 

Dan Harder, a former TEAM missionary in Bogota, Colombia and currently the Director of Global Ministries at Grace Pointe Church in Naperville, Illinois, leads the Impact Church Network.

When asking the missionaries involved with LINC what defines an Impact church, most likely the first characteristic they will offer is the focused and intentional evangelization of the middle and upper class of their city. It might be a stretch to say that these people are a forgotten, unreached people group, but usually in these Latin American countries there are numerous churches reaching out to the poorer class, and few, if any, churches that are targeting the professional and upper classes. There is also a high level of influence connected with the people of the middle and upper class. In societies where the class structure is so ingrained, it would be next to impossible for a lower class individual to have significant influence on people in a class above them. Therefore, by reaching into the middle and upper class of a strong class-based society, the influence that these people can have across the city is great.

The challenge of reaching people of influence differs depending on the country represented, but put simply, reaching people who are unwilling to display any need is hard. Their dependence on social structure and influence makes it difficult for them to see a need for God, and keeps a significant wall between these people and the Gospel. As many of the missionaries stated, it is not until someone finds themselves completely broken (from a family situation or a medical need) that they turn to the Evangelical church.

Each of the churches in the LINC ministry area (along with the churches in the Impact Network) want to raise up a body of believers that can supply the resources necessary to train leaders for ministry, locally and also globally. Reaching those with influence will also allow the local ministry to reach out to its own community financially and meet some of the needs of the poor and socially unempowered.

LINC, as a ministry area, is still discovering itself, being just under 2 years old, so the future is bright. Just imagine what it will look like when every major city in Latin America has the strong presence of a church making an impact, which, together with other LINC churches, send Latin Americans into the Muslim world with the Gospel message. While the challenges are great, the passion and drive of these churches propel the LINC vision forward, and the Spirit of God is evident upon them. 

-Written and Photographed by Robert Johnson

[Originally published in TEAMHorizons, February 2009]

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